The house with sixteen handmade doors A tale of architectural choice and craftsmanship

Henry Petroski

Book - 2014

"When Henry Petroski and his wife Catherine bought a charming but modest six-decades-old island retreat in coastal Maine, Petroski couldn't help but admire its unusual construction. An eminent expert on engineering, history, and design, he began wondering about the place's origins and evolution: who built it, and how? What needs, materials, technologies, historical developments, and laws shaped it? How had it fared through the years with its various inhabitants?"--Dust jacket... flap.

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 728.37/Petroski Checked In
New York : W. W. Norton & Company, Inc [2014]
First Edition
Physical Description
xii, 297 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Henry Petroski (author)
Other Authors
Catherine Petroski (illustrator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Since penning his first book on design failures in 1985, prolific author and civil engineer Petroski has also written at length about design successes, including such previously unheralded implements as paper clips, pencils, and toothpicks. In his latest work, Petroski picks a much more personal topic on which to focus his manufacturing expertise, his own second home on a riverbank in coastal Maine. When Petroski and his wife, Catherine, bought the cabin-like retreat several years ago, he had little idea it would be filled with enough design quirks to provoke him into a full-scale investigation of its construction history. Along with knotty pine walls and oddly built closets, the house features its own secret passage. Petroski's research included surveying the building's unusual environs and interviewing former owners and surviving relatives of its eccentric builder. Though this fascinating history of a house includes painstaking attention to woodcrafting techniques that may excite professional and amateur ­architects and ­carpenters a bit more than general readers, the book is replete with Petroski's usual fascinating details and elegant prose. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In 1997, Duke University engineering and history professor Petroski (The Pencil) and his wife bought a summer house in coastal Maine. Although it was the riverside location that initially enchanted them, Petroski soon became intrigued by the house itself, which was built by its original owner, Robert Phinney, also an engineer, in the 1950s. This leisurely narrative of a house and its environs and community, with photographs by the author's wife, Catherine, is an architectural detective story that meanders like the river the house overlooks, and which Petroski likens to a game of Clue. He admires impeccable "fits," speculates about empty beam recesses in the basement walls, and slowly peels away the mysteries of an oddly configured closet. But this investigation of a painstakingly crafted, idiosyncratic cabin does not end at its walls; Petroski nests his discoveries in the local historical, geographical, natural, and human events he encounters, chatting with neighbors, making repairs, sitting with Catherine on matching glider chairs, and watching river activity flow by. Petroski's prose, as carefully crafted as Phinney's workmanship, will make satisfying reading for architects and carpenters of the professional, amateur, and armchair varieties, as well as local history buffs and Maine lovers. 80 photos. (May) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A professor describes his quest to determine who built his sixty-year-old house and how they did it, examining the details in the panels, walls, and doors to paint a picture of the home's origins and evolution.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A Duke University professor describes his quest to determine who built his 60-year-old house and how they did it, examining the details in the panels, walls and doors to paint a picture of the home's origins and evolution. 15,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Petroski presents this architectural history study on the vacation home in coastal Maine that he and his wife bought, only to realize its curious design was due to the craftsmanship of an amateur carpenter sixty years earlier. The book starts off as a slow narrative of how the couple sought out and found the house, followed by contradictory explanations for its quirky design. A historical odyssey then ensues on the island of Arrowsic and the motivation and process of the carpenter Bob Phinney. Implications are drawn from the construction itself, such as the differences in precision between basement and upper story. Cabinets, closets, and doors are particularly analyzed, as well as the stones of the fireplace, knots in the wood, and continuing difficulties with mail delivery and visitors due to the unusual entrance to the property. Annotation ©2014 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Review by Publisher Summary 4

An architectural whodunit that unlocks the secrets of a hand-built home.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

Sleuthing around dimly lit closets, knotty-pine wall panels, and even a secret passage—but never removing so much as a nail—Petroski zooms in on the details but also steps back to examine the structure in the context of its time and place.Catherine Petroski’s beautiful photographs capture the clues and the atmosphere. A vibrant cast of neighbors and past residents—most notably the house’s masterful creator, an engineer-turned-“folk architect”—become key characters in the story.As the mystery unfolds, revealing an extraordinary house and its environs, this ode to loving design will leave readers enchanted and inspired.